Date Published: 13 March 2014
Experts agree that to combat malaria, efforts against drug resistance must increase
Efforts to combat malaria are the subject of meetings in Sydney, Australia, this week. The purpose of the gathering, which is supported by the Asian Development Bank and the Australian aid programme, is to reduce malaria cases and deaths in the Asia Pacific region by 75% from 2000 levels by 2015 as a milestone on the way to elimination of the disease - according to the Australian Department of Health website.
Some of the world's foremost malaria experts, who have attended the event , have warned that failure to act on the growing resistance to the first line drug for malaria, artemisinin, will set back efforts to reduce and eliminate malaria in the Asia Pacific region. The call for urgent action came from members of the Access to Quality Medicines and other Technologies Taskforce which advises the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance (APLMA).
The meeting was co-chaired by the Secretary of the Australian Department of Health, Professor Jane Halton, and the Secretary of the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Mr Lov Verma. It gave its support for a global campaign to ban the use of artemisinin alone as a treatment for malaria in an attempt to defeat the disease in vulnerable communities, the view of the meeting being that artemisinin should be used in combination with other anti-malarial drugs in order to prevent resistance to the drug from developing.
Globally, there were about 207 million cases of malaria in 2012 and an estimated 627,000 deaths. Most deaths occur among children living in Africa where statistics indicate that, on average, one child dies from malaria every minute.
" However, in our own Asia Pacific region there are around 36 million cases and around 49,000 deaths each year and tackling this major health threat to our near neighbours requires concerted efforts," Professor Jane Halton said at the conclusion of the meeting today.
" Despite evidence of the dangers of resistance emerging, artemisinin is still commonly used as a mono treatment for malaria supplied through private markets in the region," she added.
" The Taskforce has discussed a number of ways to effectively ban monotherapies and ensure vulnerable people can access preventive measures and best practice treatments."
Prof Halton went on to conclude that the meeting considered the potential for international networks of drug regulators and laboratories working with the World Health Organization to better ensure the quality of diagnostics, medicines and other anti-malarial products, saying that:
" We also discussed innovative ways to get products to remote areas and vulnerable populations, including through private and informal markets" and also that
" We need to keep the pressure on to reduce and eliminate malaria. Business as usual approaches won't work".
Progress of these efforts against malaria: This meeting extends already significant work by the Australian Government to support malaria reduction efforts in the Asia Pacific, including a recent grant of $18 million to the newly established Regional Malaria and Other Communicable Disease Threats Trust Fund to support regional cooperation to tackle malaria. The group agreed to meet again in June 2014 to finalise its recommendations before it reports to leaders in August.
Source: Australian Government Department of Health